A boy helping carry wood

A Strong Mission Equals Strong Youth

A boy washing the carI don’t think that this news will surprise any of us. A recent study conducted at Tufts University found that Scouting had a significantly positive impact on character of the youth. In the three year study of 2,200 youth, researchers found that there were significant increases in trustworthiness, helpfulness, kindness, obedience, and cheerfulness among the 1,800 boys in scouting versus the 400 non-scouts. That is 5 of the 12 points in the scout law. Not bad when you consider that all the scouts in the study were 12 years old or younger and only in cub scouts.

IBoy at drinking fountainn addition the study found that the scouts also expressed a more positive future hope. Of course. When you have character attributes such as helpfulness, kindness, and cheerfulness and you know that you can make a difference, why would you not think that the difference you make will be positive?

The study went on to share that the more time that a child spent in scouting, the greater benefit they received.


A helping handI have to confess that I do not necessarily think that Scouting is alone in the ability to have a positive influence on our youth. Many organizations, with a strong mission for their youth program will achieve similar results. There are many good programs that focus on character, rather than win at all costs, that we need to make sure we are encouraging our children to participate in the right program. The program that is going to benefit them in the long run.

If your child is in scouts, Well Done!

A Born Leader

The Do’s and Don’ts of Recruiting Volunteers

A Born LeaderWe have all been there. That fateful day when a key leader in the group announces that they are stepping down from the position, and a new person needs to be found to take over. Often this results in panic among the group, and a dramatic search for a new person to fill the role begins. Unfortunately, this is the wrong time to be looking for a person. Finding the replacement for this position should have happened months before. Even before you knew you were going to need to recruit a new volunteer.

Recruiting adult leadership is often one of the hardest activities for a youth organization. There are many reasons for this, but often the approach to seeking and nurturing volunteers is at the heart of the difficulty. To help groups over their recruiting problems I have developed a list of Do’s and Don’ts.

DO – Start Early

Look for recruits for a position before they are needed. Having someone already prepared to take over a position when it is not needed is a blessing for those times when the leadership transition occurs. Identify potential candidates early and get them trained and ready to take over before the need arises.

I read a story recently about a leader who made her pregnant daughters promise to be volunteer leaders once their children were old enough to join the group. While this might be extreme, you do want to plant the seed of leadership in all of the adults in the group early on.

DO – Start Small

Game coordinatorAsking someone to take on a major role in the group when their child has first joined can be intimidating to a new member. Instead, ask the new adults to assist someone else in their duties. Start small, perhaps assisting with a single event. Allowing someone to participate without the fear of responsibility provides a venue for success. A true leader can grow out of these small roles.

DON’T – Broadcast Your Need

Standing up in front of a large crowd and asking for ‘someone to do something’ is never very effective. Occasionally you will find a volunteer who will step forward, but often human nature leads us all to believe that there is someone else in the room more qualified or more enthusiastic about a role than us. So we let them step up rather than volunteer ourselves.

I have done this enough times to know that it is not very effective. Me: “Can someone with financial experience please help us out by being our group treasurer?” Group: [Sound of crickets chirping in the still night.] Sigh.

 DO – Identify the Right Roles for the Right People

Get to know the adults who participate at the meetings. Talk to them about their interests, hobbies, and skills. Discover the characteristics of each person and begin thinking about how they would best contribute to the group. Some people thrive on public exposure; others are better suited for behind-the-scenes work. Understanding who will fit where can help you build your volunteer team recruiting list.

Big KidLooking for the right spark in people can often be a challenge. I had one dad in our group who was very reluctant to participate. Especially in anything that involved getting out in front of people. But this person had a great sense of humor and an ability to laugh at himself. Even though he could not see it, I knew that this person would be great working with the children. Eventually he agreed, starting with small supporting tasks and adding additional capabilities as he went along. Now, he is a key leader in two different groups and they are benefiting from his enthusiasm and skills. I found out much later that he was terrified of anything where he had to speak out in front of people, but he was not only able to overcome this through his role in the group, it also helped him in his personal and professional lives.
The success of another leader I know was summed up by what his wife said. “I raise four children in my home. Three of them are my sons and the other one is my husband who is really just an 8-year-old in a bigger body.”

DO – Ask Privately

The most effective method of recruiting volunteers that I have found is to approach them along with one other leader. Before approaching the recruit, discuss with your colleague which role would be a good fit for the person and what skills they possess that validate your decision. Sit down with the recruit in a neutral, quiet place and share what you know about their skills and how those would help them be successful at the role. Don’t stop asking until you get agreement to participate or a satisfying answer why they are not actually right for the job. If you do get a satisfying denial, ask what job that they think they can do to help the group move forward.

  Don’t – Stick with the Conventional Choices

Look beyond the obvious leadership recruits. Besides parents, you could look for volunteers from other groups of people like grandparents, college-aged adults, and people already engaged in the community.

Leaders are EverywhereOne of the best leaders I have ever met was a reluctant grandmother volunteer of two boys. Her daughter had volunteered to be the adult leader for her son’s group and then abruptly broke both her arms in an accident. While she was out of commission the group floundered for a while until the leader’s mother stepped in to help out. At first she was going to participate for 6 months and turn the reins back over to her daughter. When the end of the 6 months approached, she decided that she would continue to the end of the year. Before the next session started, she agreed to be the leader for the group for another year. “But, you will need to find a new leader for the next year,” she said. Before that year’s session ended, she was already planning what she would be doing with the group for the following year. After that, leaders were expected to camp with the group. She was not up for that activity and started looking for a replacement leader. I had recommended several potential candidates, but she was not sure if any of them could do the job to her satisfaction. Finally she came to me and asked, “How much camping is required?” I explained that two weekend campouts were expected. Her response: “Okay, I can do that.” She ended up following those boys all the way through their time in the group, becoming the fundraising chairperson, and promising to start again with a new group of children the next year even though she wouldn’t have any more grandchildren participating. Full of ideas and enthusiasm, she was a great asset to our team.

Do – Support and Encourage

Your job as a recruiter is not done once you find someone willing to take on the role. Make sure that you continue to support them in their new role so that they can be successful. Be sure to publicly acknowledge their contribution to the group and privately congratulate them on their successes, no matter how small. Remember, just stepping forward to lend a hand is a success. A kind word and some genuine encouragement can go a long way in converting a reluctant assistant into a confident leader.

DO – Look for Your Replacement Right Away

children playingAsk each leader, once they are comfortable with their position, to begin to find the next person who could take over for them. Identifying the next recruit and sharing the job responsibilities with others establishes a precedent for an ongoing leadership transition.

As a leader I often tried to identify whether I was doing a good job. Although the size of the group, whether the group is achieving its mission, and if every one is enjoying participating are the obvious examples of success, I realized that there is another very important criterion. Will the group continue to work well together if I am no longer part of the equation? Building a team and knowing that your role will be taken care of going forward even if you are not there is very rewarding. It provides a degree of continuity that helps you to know that you are leaving a legacy.

DON’T – Toss Out A Title and Leave

Once you get a volunteer, make sure that they are successful. Give them the proper training and support needed in order to help them be great at the role. Too often we forget how difficult it was when we first started in a role and neglect to help others with the learning curve. If there is no formal training available for your group, create some. Make a list of things that a leader should know and provide information for each of those.

 DO – Consider Alternative Solutions

Leading from BehindWhen my son first joined one group in mid-year they had not found someone who was willing to lead the group. Instead, all the parents of that particular group of children decided to share in the responsibility. Every month a different parent would be the host for the group meetings. It worked. They coordinated the different activities for the year in advance and the children did not notice any difference from the other groups. When it came my turn to host the meetings, I had so much fun doing it that I offered to take over the entire responsibility for the next year. Sometimes letting everyone have a taste of what the role entails is enough to allow one person to step forward and accept the job.


I hope you and your group are helped by these tactics that have enabled the recruitment of great leadership teams. Bringing on adults who know nothing about the program but have a willingness to learn on the job can be a rewarding experience. Be sure to acknowledge and encourage their successes, no matter how small, and look for the next incremental opportunity to increase their involvement.


neckerchief slide with wings

The Cure for the Fly Away Slide

neckerchief slide with wingsYouth groups that feature uniforms have some great attributes. A sense of belonging, the recognition that you are part of something special, a chance to be someone else for a short while. Young people love to get dressed up in uniforms. Don’t believe me? Just check out any picture of a brand new scout with their new uniform and see the excitement on their face. I once commented to a Cub Scout how good he looked in his new uniform. His response: “I know!”

BSA has a great selection of uniforms, and just this year (2015) they adopted a change in the uniform code that encourages wearing a neckerchief at Scout activities even when not in the dress uniform. This change better aligns the U.S. with the rest of the scouting world.

One of the drawbacks to the BSA uniform is the official neckerchief slide. These slides look great, and when you want your den or troop to look like a team, a common slide helps. But one downside to these slides is that they are a loose fit and often fly away during any robust activity. Anytime we had a game during a pack meeting that involved running, jumping, or similar high energy activities, I could be certain to find at least one wayward slide somewhere on the ground.

To help fix the problem of the Fly Away Neckerchief Slide, I’ve created a device that is simple to tie and attaches to the slide to help hold it in place. The instructions for how to tie your own are below.

Happy days!


Two lengths of paracord. One about 14", the other 20"

Two lengths of paracord. One about 14″, the other 20″

 We will start with two lengths of paracord. The smaller one will be about 14″ and will form the loop that will hold the slide in place. The other, longer cord, should be approximately 20″ or more. You will be cutting some of this longer piece of paracord away at the end of the project, but it makes tying the knot much easier. If you make your long piece long enough, you can use the left over scrap to create the ten cent youth awards.

Paracord is actually a little too thick for this project, but it does work. If you have a thinner cord, you might give it a try.

Fuse the ends of the cords to prevent unraveling.

Fuse the ends of the cords to prevent unraveling.

 If you have a nylon cord, fuse the ends to prevent the cord from unraveling.

Add an overhand knot to each end of the small piece of cord.

Add an overhand knot to each end of the small piece of cord.

 Tie an overhand knot into each end of the small piece of cord. This is going to help the cord from becoming undone as well as provide small handles to use for tightening the loop.

With both ends knotted, middle the cord.

With both ends knotted, middle the cord.

 After you have tied the knots in each end of the smaller cord, find the middle of the cord and then pull the two ends together to make a U shape. The part of the cord that bends to make the U is known as a bight in the world of knots.

Tie an overhand knot in the middle of the long cord and around the top in of the bight in the short cord.

Tie an overhand knot in the middle of the long cord and around the top  of the bight in the short cord.

 Take your longer cord and tie an overhand knot in the middle. Slip the longer cord’s knot over the bight you made in the shorter cord and cinch it down until it is snug. Not too tight because you will eventually want the smaller cord to be able to slide back and forth within the knots of the larger cord.

Now we start the series of knots that will hold the slide in place.

Now we start the series of knots that will hold the slide in place.

 Now we are gong to tie a short series of knots that will hold the cords onto the slide. Tying these knots together creates a Portuguese sennit (aka Solomon Bar) and is the basis for tying survival bracelets.

Start by taking the end of the cord on the right and crossing it back over the shorter cord as shown.

Complete the square knot .

Complete the square knot .

 Take the other end of the cord and bring it over the cord you just crossed in front of the smaller cord. Then pass it behind the smaller cord and up through opening made by the first cord and the smaller cord. It should look like the picture.

Cinch the knot down snug, but not too tight.

Cinch the knot down snug, but not too tight.

Pull on the two ends of the longer cord to snug the knot against the smaller cord. Remember, not too tight because we want the loop to be able to slide. You might recognize that we just tied a square knot over the smaller cord. That is just what we want, a series of square knots to fasten the cord to the neckerchief slide.

Make another knot like the last one. To keep tying square knots you need to always use the same end that you pass in front of the small cord. This end will alternate from side to side each time. So for this knot we will start with the end of the longer cord that is to the left and cross it over the smaller cord. The easiest way that I have seen to make sure I am starting with the right end is to always keep the longer cord ends aligned to the same side of the smaller cord. If you look you will notice that each longer cord end zig zags back and forth over the shorter cord. If you always keep the cord that passes above the smaller cord in front then you will end up with a good knot.

If you make a mistake and alternate where the cords pass, then the knot will twist. If you keep doing this you will make a spiral. We don’t want a spiral here, so if you start to get a twist, untie the cords and retie them in the correct orientation.

Make another knot similar to the first but switching direction.

Make another knot similar to the first but switching direction.

We complete the knot by snugging it down on to the cord.

Now we will add the slide to the knot by putting the short cord ends into the slide.

Now we will add the slide to the knot by putting the short cord ends into the slide.

Insert the ends of the smaller cord into the slide so that the loop is positioned at the top of the slide. We are going to continue our knot tying around the slide, so that the cord is attached to it.

Here is the first knot over the slide.

Here is the first knot over the slide.

 With the slide in place, tie your next knot just like you have been doing (make sure to use the correct leading cord in front). Snug the knot as shown. You cannot pull too tight here or the knot will want to slip behind the slide bar, so tighten just enough to create a nice knot shape. This is a little tricky, but you can do it.

Secure the cord to the slide by tying the next knot and thus completing the square knot.

Secure the cord to the slide by tying the next knot and thus completing the square knot.

 Make another knot, alternating the starting cord, and complete a square knot below the slide bar.

Add an additional knot to help shape the knot.

Add an additional knot to help shape the knot.

 Take one more pass at a knot over the smaller cord. This will establish the nice flat shape for the locking cord.

Trim and fuse the ends of the longer cord.

Trim and fuse the ends of the longer cord.

 Once you have all the knots in place, cut off the ends of the longer cord close to the knot and fuse them to keep them from unraveling. A little super glue can help hold the ends of the cord in place.

We now have a much more secure neckerchief slide.

Attach the neckerchief by first passing the ends through the loop from back to front.

Attach the neckerchief by first passing the ends through the loop from back to front.

 To use our new slide, first pass the neckerchief ends through the cord loop from back to front.

Next pass the neckerchief ends through the slide loop.

Next pass the neckerchief ends through the slide loop.

 Next pass the neckerchief through the back of the slide. This is now a tighter fit and helps hold the neckerchief in place.

Position the slide where you want it and tighten down the cord.

Position the slide where you want it and tighten down the cord.

 Move the slide up the neckerchief to where you want it to stay.

While holding the slide with one hand, pull on the knotted ends of the short cord with the other hand to tighten the loop at the top of the slide.

Your finished slide is going to do a much better job staying in position.

Your finished slide is going to do a much better job staying in position.

 Once you have tightened down the loop, the slide is on very securely. If you want to loosen it, just hold the slide with one and and pull on the cord loop with the other.

Many scouts just wear their neckerchiefs with the slide always locked in place. They just pull the neckerchief on and off over their heads.


Field Activity Magic – The Knot Bag

Whenever I have gone on an outing with youth that lasted more than a few hours, we have had periods of waiting. Often, we filled these ‘down times’ with stories, songs, and skits. I also found that these periods were a great chance to share new skills. Always wanting to be prepared for an opportunity, I started creating bags that would allow me to share new skills in an entertaining and constructive way. Some of these are just fun, others build on skills that your youth group might already teach. Most importantly, they give youth the opportunity to see that learning can be fun and share a sense of accomplishment.

I have several bags grouped into different categories, and I usually grab one to take along on a trip that allows me to teach, entertain, and connect with the youth. I rotate the bags from time to time based on my own interests but also how the youth responded the last time I brought a bag along. Two other bags that I take are Fire Starting, which includes materials for a number of different fire starting techniques, and Carving, which has wood blanks, knives, and sharpening equipment to teach that many more useful things than a sharp stick can be made with a pocket knife. Other bags that you could possibly share might be magic, games, sewing, leather craft, basketry, painting, drawing, and pottery. The list is only limited by your own interests and imagination.

Today I wanted to focus and share one of these bags: The Knot Bag.

Warning: Learning fancy knots and making projects can be addictive. Signs that you may have a problem include: 1) no longer looking at the TV at night but listening to programs as if they were radio plays, 2) your friends start calling you a knot head, and you like it, 3) you start to lurk in knotting related web sites looking for new challenges. There is no known cure.


My knot bag liberated from my wife.

My knot bag liberated from my wife.

 This is my knot bag. I liberated the bag from my wife, who received it at a work conference. (It’s okay, she has done the same with some bags that I was given at conferences.)

It works very well for a quick grab of materials for knot projects.

Three pockets allow for a little organization of your materials and tools.

Knot Bag - Top Pouch

Knot Bag – Top Pouch

 I use the smaller top pocket just for the thinnest cotton twine and some whipping cord as well. I run a small piece of twine outside of the bag and then zip it closed. This allows me to pull some twine out, cut it off and use it without needing to open and search through the bag for what I want.

The front pouch holds some tools and supplies.

The front pouch holds some tools and supplies.

 The front pouch is reserved for various supplies and some tools that do not fit into my knot tool kit.

The main compartment of the knot bag contains my various cords, tool kit, and other supplies too large to fit into the smaller pockets.

The main compartment of the knot bag contains my various cords, tool kit, and other supplies too large to fit into the smaller pockets.

 The main compartment holds the knot materials like paracord, satin rattail, and other types of cord. I keep my smaller tools together in a little kit bag inside this pouch as well.

Cords in various sizes and color combinations to allow for creation of unique projects.

Cords in various sizes and color combinations to allow for creation of unique projects.

 I bring along various cords so that there is a good size and color available depending on the project. Most of the time we use paracord for projects (it is very popular right now), but other projects call for different materials. Sunglasses keeper cords, for example, work better with a thinner cord. Cotton twine is old school, so if you want to share how sailors would have made knot projects, this is the cord to use.

I pick up my cords at various sources. I usually look for sales and then get a supply to last for a while. One of the best places I have found for paracord and other rope types is R&W Rope in New Bedford, MA. They do a great job getting the rope to you, and if you sign up for their mailing list you will hear about some good rope specials from time to time. I have also had good luck with cord shipped directly from Amazon, but be careful with vendors that ship directly, I have had both good and bad experiences.

If you are interested in going the traditional route, I can recommend Marty Combs. He has cotton cord for sale that is high quality (meets his standards) and had in the past offered discounts to scout groups. Might also help other youth groups out as well; you will need to contact him for details.

Various tools used for making knots

Various tools used for making knots

 A collection of tools is useful too. Some I have made, some are re-purposed for knot use, and some are designed specifically for tying knots. In the picture from upper left clockwise are:

  • Cylinders for tying Turk’s Head knots
  • Marlin Spikes (or Fids) used to help tighten the knot work
  • A Monkey’s Fist jig to aid in tying that knot
  • A small bag to store the knot kit
  • A clay stylus also helpful in tightening knots
  • Hemostats used to pull cord through some tight spaces
  • A lighter for fusing nylon cord ends to keep them from fraying
  • Wire cutters for cutting the cord. A knife or scissors could also be used.

Some supplies used to help create knot based projects.

Some supplies used to help create knot-based projects.

 I also have a collection of knot supplies that can be utilized for the projects.

  • Nite-Ize S-biners are helpful for lanyards and keychains
  • Inexpensive flashlights can be decorated with knots. This helps people know which light is theirs when they otherwise all look the same
  • Lanyard clasps from trade shows. I cut the from these off and save them for use with knotted lanyard projects
  • Lanyard hooks like the ones that I used for the ten cent youth award zipper pulls
  • Plastic buckles for bracelets and watchbands
  • Split rings for key chains
  • Bottle stoppers
  • Scunci hair bands for a one-size-fits-all bracelet
  • Marbles to fill the center of a Monkey’s Fist knot. I use these to create a Matinee Cowboy Lariat for the jumping rope knot trick

Some of the things that can be made using knots.

Some of the things that can be made using knots.

 I also keep in the bag some of the things that I have tied in the past to share as examples for what may be possible.

  • Eyeglass or Sunglass keeper cord
  • Lighter decoration
  • Flashlight decoration
  • Water bottle bangle for identification
  • Lanyard for a hemostat (for identification and to keep it from falling out)
  • Bell rope pulls
  • Survival Bracelets
  • Zipper pulls
  • Lanyards
  • Matinee Cowboy Lariats

A group of books that I take along to help provide inspiration and instruction. Paracord Outdoor Gear, Creative Ropecraft, Knot Craft, Knotting Matters Magazine.

Some of the books I take along to help provide inspiration and instruction.

 I like to bring along some resources for project ideas and instructions on how to make some of the knots needed. Here are some of my favorites, mostly because they focus on finished projects rather than just the knots themselves.

  • Creative Ropecraft by Stuart Grainger is the exception to the project rule. While it does have a few projects in the back of the book, it is most useful as a reference book for various knots, splices, and braids (known as sennits in the knot world)
  • Des Pawson’s Knot Craft features a lot of sea type projects, but has a number of other useful items to make as well.
  • If you become a member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers, you automatically receive issues of the magazine, Knotting Matters. These can be useful resources for different project ideas. They have given away free membership to youth organizations who are willing to teach knotting skills. See their web site for more details.
  • I just found this copy of Paracord Outdoor Gear Projects by Joel Hooks at my local scout shop and could not resist buying it. If I had to limit myself to one resource to bring along, I think this one would be it. It has some very useful projects, and covers just enough of the knots that you need to make the projects in the book.

An old scout 40 knot card

An old scout 40 knot card

 While not useful when you are in the field, these sites can also offer you some insight into possible rope projects:

  • Fusion Knots. J.D. Lenzen can be credited with creating a new generation of knot tyers with his Youtube videos, website, and project books.
  • Stormdrane’s Blog. David Hopper runs a fun site that has several knot projects along with a bunch of other things that often involve paracord.
  • Frayed Knot Arts. Vince Brennan does custom-made rope work but also features a library of projects and how to make them.

I hope you begin to start making your own ‘Go To’ project bags that you can use to share and teach new things to the youth you lead.

As always, we welcome your feedback on this post.



Here is what the rest of the stew looks like with the Cabbage leaf set aside.

Foil Stew – A Gourmet Meal So Simple a Child Can Do It

In my youth we were required to prepare our own meals as a team when we weekend camped. After a series of burnt eggs, runny pancakes, and charred hamburgers, all accompanied by an enormous post-cooking cleanup process, we eventually got our act together. Our first big success came when we stumbled upon the classic recipe of Foil Stew. This was a great meal and soon became a staple in our menu planning because:

  1. It was easy to prepare.
  2. Each person could prepare their own.
  3. It tasted great and passed any nutrition rules we had to meet.
  4. Cleanup was a breeze.

So for this post I will give you my version of foil stew that can be created by your youth for a fun and healthy meal cooked in a camp fire.

Foil Stew Recipe

Wash all the vegetables in preparation for cutting.

Wash vegetables.

Start your campfire first so that you have some good coals to cook your foil stews on. See below for some campfire hints.

Ingredients (Makes Four Stews)
6 Medium-sized Potatoes
4 Carrots
1 Large Onion
1 Large head of Cabbage
1 LB. Extra Lean Hamburger
Salt and Pepper

Before starting, wash your hands and then wash all the vegetables.

Cut up the Carrots, Potatoes, and Onion.

Cut up the carrots, potatoes, and onion.

 Cut the carrots and potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Cut the onion into eight sections. (Note: These vegetables can all be prepared at home before the campout. Simply put the cut vegetables in a Zip-Lock bag and store in the refrigerator until time to transfer to the cooler. However, this prep is quick and can also easily be done at the camp.)

Wash the cabbage head.

Wash the cabbage head.

 Next, wash the head of cabbage.
Remove the cabbage core.

Remove the cabbage core.

Cabbage with Core Removed

Cabbage with Core Removed

 Remove the core of the cabbage by making a deep cone-shaped incision at the stem. This will make removing the leaves easier.

My cut looks a little more like a pyramid, but it still works well.

Removing leaves intact.

Removing leaves intact.

 The idea is to be able to remove the cabbage leaves as close to intact as possible. If they do get torn they will still work, you’ll just need to be a little more careful when wrapping the stew.

Place a cabbage leaf on top of two sheets of aluminum foil.

Place a cabbage leaf on top of two sheets of aluminum foil.

 Take two pieces of 12-inch aluminum foil about 22 inches long and lay one on top of the other. Next, add a leaf of the cabbage on top of the foil. If the leaf is broken, or you get deeper into the cabbage where the leaves are smaller, you can layer the leaves as shown in the picture. Just be a little more careful when wrapping up your meal to keep everything contained within the cabbage leaves.

Add the cut vegetables to the stew.

Add the cut vegetables to the stew.

 Add one fourth of your potatoes, a fourth of your carrot pieces, and two sections of the onion on top of your cabbage leaf. Break up the onion pieces by separating the layers.

Add the hamburger on top and season to taste.

Add the hamburger on top and season to taste.

 Add a quarter pound of the hamburger to your vegetables and season with salt and pepper to your taste. You may add other seasonings as well. It’s your individual stew, after all.

I add the meat by hand and break it up with my fingers over the vegetables. If you do this, be sure to was your hands well with soap afterward.

Top your stew with another cabbage leaf to cover the meat and other vegetables.

Top your stew with another cabbage leaf to cover the meat and other vegetables.

 Take another cabbage leaf and top your meat and vegetables. The meat and vegetables should be enclosed by the cabbage.

Start wrapping up your meal by folding one end of the top layer of foil over the meal.

Start wrapping up your meal by folding one end of the top layer of foil over the meal.

 Now wrap up your meal. Start by folding one end of the top piece of foil over the vegetables.

Fold the other end over and curl up the edges.

Fold the other end over and curl up the edges.

 Fold the other end over the first and then roll the edges together to seal the stew into your piece of foil.

Rotate the foil packet your just made 1/4 turn and then seal it again with the second piece of foil.

Rotate the foil packet you just made 1/4 turn and then seal it again with the second piece of foil.

 Take the packet you just made and give it a quarter turn so that the rolled edges face the ends of your second piece of foil. Now repeat the wrapping process to seal your meal in a second layer of foil.

When building your campfire, select wood that is 1 to 3 inches in diameter.

When building your campfire, select wood that is 1 to 3 inches in diameter.

 When preparing for your campfire, select wood that is not too large. Limbs that are 1 to 3 inches in diameter are good. The idea is to have a good bed of coals ready to cook your stew packets on when they are ready. Using wood that is too large will mean you will have to wait longer for it to make the coals that you need.

A fire that is ready for your meal packets has a good amount of glowing embers for cooking.

A fire that is ready for your meal packets has a good amount of glowing embers for cooking.

 This is the sort of fire that you are looking to have when you want to cook your stew packets. I must confess here that I took these pictures in my backyard to write these instructions and I used hardwood lump charcoal to get such a nice looking fire.

Place your stew packets on the coals.

Place your stew packets on the coals.

 Place your foil stew packets on the coals. If you have a shovel available, add a few coals to the top of the packets. Let the packets cook in this position for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes of cooking turn the packets over.

After 15 minutes of cooking, turn the packets over.

 After the 15 minutes have passed, turn the packets over to cook the other side. Again cover them with a few coals if you can do so safely. Let them cook for another 15 minutes.

You should hear the food sizzling and begin to smell a wonderful stew.

You should hear the food sizzling and begin to smell a wonderful stew.

 After the second 15-minute period has passed, your stews are ready to eat. During the cooking process you should have heard the food sizzling as it cooked and begun to smell that great stew smell.

Take the packets from the fire using tongs, a shovel, or another safe method.

Take the packets from the fire using tongs, a shovel, or another safe method.

 When the cooking time is completed, remove the packets from the fire with tongs, a shovel, or some other safe method. It helps to have something you can place them on to carry them to the eating area. Be careful, as a stray ember or two may take a ride with a packet. Check to make sure that all the embers are off the packets before you unwrap them.
Open the foil packet and see the feast that you have created.

Open the foil packet and see the feast that you have created.

Here is what the rest of the stew looks like with the Cabbage leaf set aside.

Here is what the rest of the stew looks like with the cabbage leaf set aside.

 Open the foil packet and see what you made. It tastes even better than it looks.

We decided in our youth that the purpose of the cabbage was to keep the rest of the meal from burning. In fact, it does seem to take cabbage a little longer and a little more heat to cook than the rest of the ingredients. As adults, we found that the flavor of the cabbage is really good. If some of the cabbage is a little too done, just set it aside with your fork as you enjoy the rest of the meal.


Bon Appetit!

As I said before, this was a regular meal for us as youth. Simple, hardly any cleaning, and it tasted very good. I continued the tradition of cooking foil stew on campouts when we had a family of our own, and our children loved it. In fact, on one camping trip my 8-year-old daughter invited a friend to join us. When the day for us to leave arrived, his mother dropped him off at our house with two grocery bags full of ‘his’ food. The bags contained nothing but processed food and sugar snacks. Since we had already included him in our meal planning, I ‘forgot’ to pack his food with the other camping meals. He was not too upset and enjoyed eating everything that we ate. He especially liked making and eating his own foil stew meal.

I was a little worried about what his mother would say about me giving her back all his special food. When I saw her later at a school function, I noticed she was taking a direct route to talk to me. I braced myself for the potential tongue lashing I might get, and she came face to face with me. “How did you ever get my son to eat cabbage?” she said. “He says he loves it!”



Hiking on the trail

Turning a Hike into an Adventure

“How far have we gone?” “How many more miles before we get there?” “Do we know where we are going?”

We have all heard these statements, along with the inevitable “Are we there yet?”,  when taking youth on a wilderness camp or even a day hike. This is a fun project that you can do with your group during a meeting prior to the outing as a hike preparation activity. The youth can be working on making Ranger Beads while you, or the hike leader, talks about other ways to prepare for the trip. When you are on the hike and someone wants to know when, where, or what is going on, you can refer them to their Ranger Beads for the answer.

Ranger Beads are pace count beads that help you track the number of paces you take while walking or hiking to your destination. This is a very old technique used to measure distance. Roman soldiers were said to use beads to keep track of how far they marched. In Rudyard Kipling’s book Kim, the young boy Kim is asked to watch what the enemy does and report to the British troops anything he finds out. He is taught how to measure the distance he has walked by using knots tied in a piece of rope.

If you know the length of your stride and are tracking the number of strides (or paces) you are taking with your Ranger Beads, then you will know how far you have gone, just like Kim.

This tutorial shows an easy way to make your own set of Ranger Beads.


 IMG_6669 To begin, each person needs about fifteen inches of paracord (parachute cord or “550” cord) and twelve beads. Wooden beads seem to work best because they are more difficult to break than glass or plastic beads. The hole in the beads should be just big enough for the paracord to pass through, but still be snug enough so that the bead will stay put when you move it. I used Bead Landing™ Wood Beads, Natural  available at Michael’s Crafts to make the Ranger Beads in this guide. Tools that you will need include something to cut the cord (scissors, knife, wire cutters, etc.) and a lighter (or matches) for fusing. These can be shared.
First step is pulling the core nylon strands out of the paracord. If your beads have a smaller hole, like mine did, the first step is to pull the core nylon strands out of the paracord. This step is required when using the Bead Landing™ Wood Beads because the hole is too small to allow the full paracord to pass through. By removing the inner core it allows the beads to fit on snugly. Test the cord on your beads for the proper fit. The bead should be able to slide up and down the cord when you pull it, but stay in position when left alone.
 With the core removed, we now need to fuse the ends. With the core removed, we now need to fuse the ends. We fuse the ends of the cord to keep the individual threads from unraveling and ruining our project.
Start the bowline loop. Now that both ends are fused, we’ll create a bowline knot at one end of the cord. The loop of the bowline knot should be just big enough to fit your thumb in. I like to start by putting the cord across my hand and then pinching with the forefinger and thumb of my other hand where I want the knot to be. 
 Rotate the right hand to make a loop in the cord. Now rotate the hand that is pinching the cord clockwise to make a loop in the cord.
 hold where the cord crosses itself with your thumb. Hold the cord with your thumb where it crosses itself.
 Feed the end of the cord through the loop that you made. Feed the end of the cord through the loop that you made.
 Take the cord around the back. Take the end of the cord around the back of the long piece above the loop.
 Then feed the cord back down through the loop. Then feed the cord back down through the loop.
 Adjust the knot so that just a little of the end of the cord is exposed and your thumb will just fit in the loop. Adjust the knot so that just a little of the end of the cord is exposed and your thumb will just fit in the loop.
 Finished Bowline knot. This is what the finished bowline knot should look like.
Adding beads Now that the bowline loop is in place, you can begin adding beads. This is a little hard because, as we already said, the holes in the bead need to be small enough so that the bead stays in position when moved on the cord. The small hole makes pushing the cord through a bit difficult. I found that if I twist the bead with one hand while trying to push the cord through with the other, eventually enough cord will emerge on the other side of the bead for me to grab and pull through.
 Distance beads Keep adding beads until you have five beads on the cord. These will represent distance markers and each bead will track one half mile. (If you want to measure Kilometers “Klicks”, then put on four beads as I have done here. Miles are more convenient in the U.S., but most of the rest of the world uses Kilometers.) I like to use different colored beads for the two parts of the Ranger Beads, but it is not necessary.
 Adding the separator knot. Now we will add the separator knot. This knot keeps our distance beads separate from our pace beads (which go on next). I like to use a figure-eight knot here rather than an overhand knot because it is a little bit thicker and looks nicer. Start the knot by crossing the free end back over the cord near the beads, making a loop.
 Figure eight knot. Next, wrap the free end behind the cord, but keep the loop in place.
 Finish the figure eight knot Finish the figure-eight knot by running the free end back through the loop.
 Cinch the knot up near the beads. Cinch the knot up near the beads, but make sure to leave some room, two or three bead lengths, so that the beads can be moved away from each other.
 Add the pace beads. Add seven pace beads (nine if you are using kilometers) just like you added the distance beads.
Finished Ranger Beads. Finish the Ranger Beads by adding another figure-eight knot at the end after you have strung all the pace beads.

How to use your new Ranger Beads

First, each person needs to determine his or her pace count. To do this, you must know how many strides you will take to cover 110 yards. A stride is the length your foot travels while you walk. To measure your stride, start walking with one foot and then count how many times the other foot takes a step. For example, if you started walking with your left foot, you would add one to your count every time your right foot touched the ground. (110 yards is 1/16th of a mile).

Next you need to count this for a specific distance: 110 yards. The easiest way to do this is to go to a local football field and have your group members count their stride from goal line to goal line, then multiply each stride count by 1.1 to determine their stride for 110 yards. This is the pace count that they want to remember for measuring the 110-yard distance.

Measuring distance with your Ranger Beads

Bead measuring one 110 yard distanceTo measure distance with your ranger beads you keep track of your strides as your walk or hike. Set your Ranger Beads to the initial position with every bead moved to the top (closest to the loop). Every time your count matches the stride count you determined was your number for 110 yards, you move a pace bead (one of the seven) from the top to the bottom of the pace section of the cord. This tracks every 16th mile that your have covered. Start your count over again, and move a bead each time you reach your pace count number.

When you have moved all seven of the pace count beads, don’t stop. Keep counting until you reach your pace count for the 110-yard distance an eighth time. Now you can move all the pace count beads back to the top and move one distance bead down. You have just walked 1/2 mile.

Continue this way to measure how far you have traveled. Remember that when you move the last distance bead down, you keep counting until it would be time to move another distance bead. Then you reset everything back to the top and you have now covered three miles (assuming you put a fifth bead in the distance group.)

This works the same way for kilometers, but you need to have nine pace beads and, typically, four distance beads. Once you know your stride count for 1/10 of a kilometer, every time you hit that count you move a pace bead down. When you have moved all nine you continue counting your stride (just like with the mile beads) and when you get your 1/10 kilometer stride count number, you move a distance bead down. You have now covered one kilometer. A configuration of four distance beads and 9 pace beads will allow you to measure five kilometers before starting over from the initial position.

Now that you have your Ranger Beads and have determined how to measure distance with them, it’s time to put them to good use. Take the group out on a hike and have them measure how far they hiked. If you know the distance beforehand, you can have small prizes for those that measure closest to the actual distance.

Understanding and awareness of distance and how far you have traveled are good skills for anyone to know. Ranger Beads are a fun way of helping grow that skill in youth.

Stick Blaster

The Million Dollar Recruiting Activity

Every year, youth organizations have recruiting events to help bolster the membership. For groups that work with the younger crowd, this means dividing time between informing parents about the organization and making sure the children are having fun. One of the best ways to allow for a good discussion with parents and provide fun for the children is to have a youth activity.

The activity needs to be simple enough for the child to be able to accomplish it, but not so simple that they become bored right away. Also, in many cases, the activity needs to span a wide range of ages. In my case we often had to find things that would please children from ages 6 to 11 plus any other siblings that came along for the visit. The best activity that I have ever found are Stick Blasters.

Stick Blasters

Also known as stick grenades or stick bombs, stick blasters are a simple, fun toy that are easy to make. In my youth I can still remember summers where we could play outside until the streetlights came on and flagging down the ice cream truck as it trolled down the street. If you had some forethought as a kid, you would save the stick from the ice cream until you had enough to make your own stick blaster. Then you would go outside and play with them all day.

The stick blaster in these instructions uses five sticks. I have seen designs that use four sticks and six sticks. I think the five-stick design is the easiest to make.

I like this as a recruiting activity because:

  • Children as young as six can learn to make the toy and then spend the next 30 minutes happily playing with it while you talk to the parent.
  • The older children in your group who have made a stick blaster before can actually teach the younger ones how to make them, freeing up adults to supervise or talk with new parents.
  • Sticks are inexpensive and everyone can take a set home. This provides a memento of the fun times they had at their first youth meeting, encouraging them to return.

Stick Blaster

You can buy craft sticks just about anywhere. This package of 60 sticks was purchased at a local dime store. You can buy them for less in larger quantities. The cost to send five sticks home is about 25 cents for each child. I find that the thicker sticks work best even though they are a little harder to assemble. Most of the sticks that I have seen say that they are approved for play by children 3+ years old. This particular package says they are safe for 8+ years. It is a good idea to check the package to make sure you have sticks appropriate for the age group. It is also highly recommended that at least one adult in the group is supervising the youth activity to make sure that it is safe.

StickBlaster1As mentioned, we start with 5 sticks to make the toy. If you have colored sticks like these shown you can give them out in any color combination that you want. If you have natural wood sticks (not colored) you could also provide markers for the children to decorate their sticks as part of the activity.


Constructing the stick blaster starts with a single stick. Pick a stick and lay it down on the table as shown. Once you get good at building these you can build them in your hand.


The next stick is added on top of the fist stick and angled to the left.


The third stick is added on top of the other two. This time the stick is angled to the right. Note that all three sticks meet together at one point. The stick in the middle is at the bottom of the pile. This is important to the successful construction of this toy.


Take a fourth stick and add it so that it is over the two outer sticks but under the middle stick.


The fifth stick is installed in two parts. Part one is to put it under one outer stick and over the middle stick. It is a good idea while you do this, to press on the point at the bottom where the first three sticks meet to keep them from coming apart. If you are doing this in your hand then you would be pinching the first three sticks together where they meet at this point.


The final step is to bend the fifth stick down and then slide it over and behind the other outside stick. Once this is done, the sticks will hold each other in place. You may adjust your sticks so that the ends are just barely meeting, making this a more fragile toy.

The fun part now is when you throw the sticks in the air and they fall to the floor. We usually held our meetings in a school gym, so there was plenty room to let them fly. Once they hit the floor the sticks will disconnect (especially if you adjusted them so they were only meeting at the very edges) and the release of the spring tension causes them to explode into a pile of individual sticks again ready for reassembly and another throw.

At one meeting, I was talking with a new child who came to see what were were all about. I asked if he wanted to lean how to make a stick blaster. He said yes, so I showed him how to put it together. When we were done I could see the look on his face that said ‘Big Deal.’ I said, “Now, watch this,” and threw the toy up into the air about 10 feet high. When it hit the ground and exploded into a bunch of pieces, his reaction was “Wow!” and he rushed over to get his sticks and make his own stick blaster to throw again.

This is a great way to break the ice with children and give them something fun to remember about your group. Try it and let us know what you think of our recruiting activity.




Canoes ready for lake exploration.

Family Camping for the Reluctant Camper

When we were first married, I was moving some of my things into our new apartment, and my wife noticed my hiking backpack. “When we have kids we are NOT going camping,” she exclaimed. I did not worry too much about it and said that would be fine. Internally, I was bemoaning the loss of one of my favorite getaway activities. But, love conquers all, and if that made her happy, then I would be okay without camping.

Sometime later, when we did have children, we were sitting in our living room reading the paper and she said, “Maybe we should take the kids camping.” She did not say this enthusiastically, but rather in the tone of a person dreading the experience but willing to make the sacrifice for her children. I put down my section of the paper (I would like to tell you that it was the financial section, or even the sports, but it was probably the comics).

“What?” I said, with a hint of hope in my voice. “I thought you said we would never go camping.”

“Well,” she said, “there is an article here about a local state park that just installed some tent cabins that they say are perfect for families. The children should experience camping at least once in their lives.”

Sensing a small crack in the camping defenses, I leapt into the fray with wild abandon. “Tell me, why you do not like camping?”

“Because,” she started, “when we went camping as a family I watched my mother rise early to make everyone breakfast. Once we had all eaten, she did the dishes and tidied up the camp while my dad and us kids went out and played. Just about the time she was done, we all came strolling back into camp asking what was for lunch. For her, the whole processes started all over again and continued this way during the entire camping trip. We all came home excited and ready to go again, and she came home exhausted.”

I looked at her and said, “I see. I’ll tell you what, you make the reservations for the tent cabin and I will take care of the rest.”

Our children were five and two at the time, so I planned meals that were easy and they would enjoy. I bought some pre-cooked chicken and potato salad for the first night’s dinner. Having a ready-to-eat meal allowed us to arrive, unpack, and eat without setting up the cooking gear at all. After dinner, we started a campfire, made s’mores, sang songs, and told stories until it was time for bed. It was a good start to our camping trip and we were excited for the next day.

In the morning, we had scrambled eggs and Pop-Tarts. Pop-Tarts are a treat for us, so our day started well. We ate from paper plates with plastic utensils. Okay, not very environmentally friendly or terribly frugal, but I was shooting for making the experience an easy one for everybody. I cleaned up the cooking dishes while my wife readied the children for a hike.

Our ‘hike’ was probably more like a one-mile stroll, but for children of five and two, this a good distance to start. After the hike, we returned to our camp and played a board game that we had brought along. Then it was time for lunch. Sandwiches on paper plates with some juice and cookies filled us up and gave us energy for the afternoon. We played another game and then went swimming in a nearby small river. After swimming the children played around the camp while my wife and I rested a bit at the campfire before preparing dinner.

Dinner was a family event. Before leaving home, I had cut some potatoes, carrots, and onions into small pieces and packaged them into containers. I also brought a head of cabbage and a pound of ground beef. We tore off some sheets of aluminum foil and, using the cabbage leaves as bowls, we each added the vegetables, ground beef, and salt and pepper for seasoning to our foil stew meals. Once the meals were all bundled up, we marked them and then placed them in the coals of the campfire for 15 minutes on each side. While the foil stews were cooking I found and cleaned some sticks from around camp. I mixed up a batch of Bisquick in a zip lock bag. We wrapped the dough around the sticks and turned them over the fire to cook to a golden brown. After the 30-minute cooking time was complete, we pulled the foil stews out of the coals to eat right out of the foil. Cleanup was a matter of crumpling up the foil and pitching it into the garbage.

After dinner we put out our fire and walked to the park amphitheater. We saw some mule deer along the way. The park ranger taught us about the animals that lived in the park and a fun new song called “Bats Eat Bugs.”

The next day I made pancakes for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. There were more games, another hike, some family picture taking, and more exploring of the camp site. In the afternoon we packed up our gear and drove home in time for dinner.

After the children were in bed asleep and my wife and I were relaxing watching a television show she turned to me and said, “You know what we ought to do next time we go camping?”

“Next time.” Those words were music to my ears!

Tent trailers can be lower cost but still provide a degree of comfort for your camping experience.

Family camping in the tent trailer.

Our family camping evolved over the years. We cut way back on our use of paper and plastic and we learned how everybody could share in the chores so that everybody could enjoy more of the activities. We eventually bought a tent trailer that we kept packed with everything except clothes and food so that we would be ready to camp at a moment’s notice. At the same time, we looked for ways to make our camping trips easier, more fun, and a chance to learn something new every time we went.

If you or someone in your family has been avoiding camping or your campouts just seem like too much work, here are some tips to consider:

  • Plan meals that are simple to prepare, taste good, and clean up quickly. Sacrifice your diet for a few days in order to make life easier and more enjoyable for all. One dinner of Hamburger Helper isn’t really going to hurt anybody. If you do want to prepare elaborate meals with less cleanup you might try Dutch oven cooking or single pan meals. Recipes can be found online or you can get a copy of one of my favorite books, “One-Pan Gourmet Fresh Food On The Trail” by Don Jacobson.
  • Plan camping activities for the children. Keeping your children occupied throughout the day can increase the pleasure of a camping trip by quite a bit. Hikes, swimming, games, crafts, stories, and songs are all great ways to keep the kids engaged and active.
  • Look for interesting places to visit. State parks are often a good start. Your state created them for a reason. There must be something special or unique about that place in order to justify the cost of creating and maintaining a park. Take some time when you go there to find out and see what makes it a special place. Of course you cannot go wrong with any national park. They are true gems of the American outdoors.
  • Build your camping equipment slowly. Start with the basics and then go camping. Discover what would have made the trip a little easier. Add that to your next campout. Look for used items at garage sales. Keep a list of camping things you want, and when someone asks you what you want for your birthday or Christmas you have some ideas already to go.

Get out, have fun, explore America, and spend time with your family. You will never regret it.

Parent Leadership

The Secret to Joining the Best Youth Organization

The key to a successful Scout unit (or any other youth organization) is strong, creative, and caring leadership. I often hear adults whose children belong to units say ‘Our Scoutmaster is great, the things he teaches my son are amazing.” Or, “Our Group Leader is the best. She is so funny and wacky that all the girls and boys just love her.”

It is true that a good unit leader can go a long way to ensure a unit’s success. But there is another leader in the organization who is even more important.

The parent leader.

Parent involvement and parent leadership are crucial to an organization’s success.

Let me draw an illustration for you and see if it resonates.

Tiger cub ready for a first pack meeting. Parent leadership and involvement can make a big difference.Imagine that you suggest to your wife or husband that you would like to go out for a nice dinner. Your wife or husband agrees to this idea and you set a time and place.

During the time leading up to this event you imagine what it will be like. The conversations you will have. How you will talk about the experience afterward. Will there be mutual friends you might meet? All of this builds your excitement and anticipation.

Finally, the day of the event is here and your spouse drives you to the restaurant. However, when you arrive your spouse says, “Okay, go in and enjoy yourself and I will pick you up in an hour.”

All of your anticipation, excitement, and enjoyment fade, leaving you with the dread of going in by yourself and not being able to share any of the experience. How would you feel? How much would you think your spouse cares about you? Even if you enjoyed yourself, would being alone diminish your experience?

Many of our youth face this situation when they go away to meetings. Events that can be great bonding experiences for them and their parents are missed because the parent does not participate.

Many families have circumstances that don’t allow the parents to participate 100% in each child’s activities. Sometimes the parents work multiple jobs to cover the bills, sometimes a single parent is raising the family. We can appreciate these circumstances and understand that those parents may not always be around, but I have seen parents make their involvement a priority even in difficult situations. One parent I know just brought the whole gang to meetings. She could participate in a limited fashion while still watching after the younger ones. Two other families shared participation by trading jobs. The parent from one family brought the two boys to the meeting while the other worked. The other parent would bring the boys on the weekend events. In both situations, the parents were able to stay involved enough to share some of the experiences with their boys.

Parent leadership can make or break the success of a unit. The most important leadership comes from the parents’ participation.

Joining with your child in the youth organization can provide you with great benefits:

  • Spend valuable one-on-one time with your child. There is an old visual description of this. Imagine that you were to take a 10-foot length of paper from a receipt printer and stretch it out to represent the lifetime of your child. Mark the tape evenly to show every decade of your child’s expected life. Now, at the beginning of the paper tear off the section that is prior to when you can first remember doing things with your parents. For most of us this is about age 5 or 6. Next, at the other end of the tape tear off everything after the date when you might no longer be around to share in your child’s life experience. Continue tearing off sections of paper for every major life event:
    • When children become busy with children of their own.
    • When they get married.
    • When they go off to college.
    • When they discover love and independence.

Soon you will see that all you have left of the piece of paper is a small section that ranges from about 5 years old to age 15. 10 years. 10 years of your child’s life where you can make the memories and the bonds to build those lasting relationships.

Doing things together on a regular basis and sharing adventures is a great way to build those bonds.

A quick father daughter picture then off to our activities. Parent leadership has its perks.Some of the best memories I have with my children involve youth outings. I remember vividly one very busy weekend at camp with my daughter when we were in the YMCA program. I was serving in a leadership role to help organize the event as my daughter was enjoying all the activities that were available. Early on we shared meals and games and sporting events, but on Saturday afternoon I had some errands to complete for the upcoming campfire that night and she had more activities to attend. There was a scheduled time during the day when we were to have a father/daughter picture taken. At the right time, we both reconnected to take the picture and shared a little bit about what we were doing, and then it was off again in separate directions. I can remember this so clearly because we both made an effort to break away from our own personal activities and come together and connect.

  • Make friends with other adults. You are going to find other parents who are sharing the same experiences. I have seen many instances where these casual acquaintances turn into lifelong friendships and help each other support their children’s growing.
  • Learn new things. There are many fun and interesting things that most organizations get to do and learn. You will learn some of these alongside your child, and others you will be able to lead and share your knowledge. For me, this is one of the best features of getting involved. I learned a bunch of fun things right alongside the youth. The best was that I learned how to teach a skill in a way that younger people could understand. From carving to fancy knots to starting a fire with sticks, the things I learned were both fun and surprisingly helpful.
  • Visit new and exciting places. Trips to unusual locations are a part of most youth programs and because you participate, you will get to visit many places where you would normally not have access. Adventures with your children become
  • Be a local hero. Your children will be amazed at what you can do and how you help them and their friends. The best thing about this is that it carries on beyond participation in a youth organization. My children and I have been able to enjoy adventures together even as they have gotten older and we have turned ordinary outings, like cross country trips to college, into adventures by incorporating additional activities.
  • Have fun. This is not brain surgery. Most of the activities are small, short, simple and a whole lot of fun.

So don’t miss out. Get yourself in gear and participate in what is going on. This is really the secret to finding the best youth activities for your children. They are the same ones where you can participate. Show off your parent leadership skills, no matter how few. Don’t worry, your skills will get better. You won’t be sorry.


Generic Expensive Awards

The Ten Cent Zipper Pull Youth Award

As a youth leader I like to find ways to encourage children when they do things that align with the values of the youth organization. If a teacher tells me that one of the girls in my group was very helpful in her class, or if a boy participates in a community cleanup drive, I like to acknowledge these things publicly. It helps reinforce the values that you may be trying to instill, and encourages others to emulate the same activity.

For a long time I would just bring the child forward and announce what they had done and why it was a good thing. Then we would all cheer wildly (we never clap politely in any youth meetings I run). I realized after a while that I could do better. One night I was making some keychain fobs from paracord and had some leftover pieces. I turned these scrap pieces into zipper pulls and thought, “You know, I can make these very quickly with hardly any expense. I wonder if they would be good as encouragement youth awards?” At the next meeting I experimented with not only cheering for the child, but also giving them a zipper pull to wear on their coat, backpack, sleeping bag, or anything else. These were a big hit. Everyone wanted the zipper pull youth award. It became a status symbol in the group. Several of the children, who received more than one pull, started wearing then on the same zipper to show off their awards as a collection.

Zipper pulls can be made in a number of ways. I will show you a simple technique that will you to make zipper pulls for less than 10 cents each. They cost even less if you buy your materials in bulk or use leftover scraps as I have done.

Things you will need to make these zipper pulls: scissors, lanyard hooks, lighter (or matches), 6-8" length of cord or string.

Scissors, lanyard hooks, lighter (or matches), 6-8″ length of cord or string.

To get started you will need:

  • Inexpensive lanyard hooks. I get a package of 45 of these at Michael’s.
  • Scissors.
  • 6-8 inches of cord.
  • A lighter or matches to fuse the nylon paracord, or some glue to keep the ends of the cord from fraying.

You may want to start with a longer piece of cord for your first few pulls until you become comfortable with the tying steps.

Start by forming the cord into a U shape.

Start by forming the cord into a U shape.

Start by forming your cord into a U shape. Hold two ends together and find the middle of the cord with your other hand and pull to create the U.

First loop.

Create the first loop by moving the end of the cord to the left, down, and back over the rest of the cord.

We start tying the zipper pull by taking the end of the cord on the left side of the U and moving it left, then down, then back to the right until it lays on top of the rest of the cord, leaving a loop to the left of the U.

Making the second loop by reversing the process with the first loop.

Create the second loop moving the right-side cord to the right, down, and behind the rest of the cord, then up through the first loop.

Next we take the cord on the right side and move it right, then down over the cord from the left, then behind what is left of the U, and finally through the loop we created on the left-hand side. When you have done these two loops your cord should look like the picture, with a small U at the bottom, left and right loops with the cord ends going through them in opposite directions, one from above and one from behind.

Cinch the first knot tightly.

Pull the loop and cord ends to cinch the first knot somewhat tight.

Now hold the U shape in one hand and and pull each cord end a little at a time to cinch up the first knot. The new loop, formed by the U and the knot, determines the length of our zipper pull. If it is too short you can pull on the loop to tighten the knot as well, giving you a little more room to work. A good length is about an inch.

First sinnet knot

Tie the first pass for the sinnet.

You now begin to form the series of knots that will define your zipper pull. We will actually be tying a series of square knots around the two strands of the loop. The result is a nice flat braid that is strong and easy to grip. This braid has various names; Cobra Stitch, Solomon Bar, and Portuguese Sinnet are the ones that I know about.

There is a very important concept in order to get this correctly:

The cord that passes in front of the loop in the last knot tied is the cord that passes in front of the loop again for the next knot.

If you remember this, then this project is easy. The picture shows the first cord for the new knot passing over the top of the loop from the right and going to the left. On your knot it may pass from the left and go to the right depending on how you started. In any case, the startng direction will alternate from side to side as you tie each knot. Just remember to keep the cord that starts in front always passing in front and you will be okay.

I teach this process to youth so that they can make their own survival bracelets. The fact that the knots start from an opposite side each time is difficult for the younger ones to grasp. It is an interesting view into how the brain matures. In my experience, youth who are 9 years and older seem to grasp the concept easier and get less frustrated with the process.

Back to our zipper pull. Look at your last knot that you tied and identify which part crosses over the top of the loop. Find the end of that cord that crossed over the top and pull it down and back over the top of the loop, again leaving a side loop . Pinch this cord in place.

Take the other end of the cord and pull it down and over the cord you are pinching then behind the loop and up through the side loop that you created with the cord you are pinching. It should look like the picture above (it may be reversed depending on which side of knot you started at). Tighten the knot.

More knots for the zipper pull.

Continue adding knots to your zipper pull

Keep adding knots and tightening them as you go. You can also pull down on the loop to compress the knots closer together for a nicer look.

Add knots as long as you have cord or a loop left.

Keep adding knots until you run out of cord or loop.

Continue adding knots until your either run out of enough cord length or you have come down so far on your loop that you cannot add another knot to it.

Clip off the ends of the cord.

Clip off the ends of the cord.

Now remove the excess cord end to a point near your zipper pull. You may use scissors, a knife, or my favorite, some small wire cutters.

Fuse the ends of the cord by melting them with a lighter or a match.

Fuse the ends of the cord by melting them with a lighter or a match. Use some glue for cord that does not melt.

Now melt the ends of the cords close to the zipper pull to keep them from unraveling. If you are using a cord that does not melt, like cotton or hemp, apply a little glue to the ends. Cyanoacrylate (CA) glue, also known as super glue, works well for this step.

Add the lanyard hook to the loop and your zipper pull is done.

Add the lanyard hook to the loop, and your zipper pull is done.

Take one of your lanyard hooks and connect it to the loop of your zipper pull.

Your Zipper Pull is done and ready to be given away.

Your Zipper Pull is done and ready to be given away.

There it is, your zipper pull is done and ready to give away. Once you get the idea down, these zipper pulls are easy to make, cost very little, and really help make a child’s day.

Keep Zipper Pulls on a keychain for each access.

Keep Zipper Pulls on a keychain for easy access.

I keep several zipper pulls on a key ring and toss them into my Cub Master bag. So when I want to hand one out I can just grab the collection, disconnect one pull, and make a spontaneous award.

I do not call these the Zipper Pull award. I give them a name aligned with the organization. It might be the “Bright Y Award,” or the “Cub Master Award,” or the “Way to Go Award.” The name helps define that these little awards are meant to highlight someone who has reflected the values of the organization.

It is funny, but the simple things really do go a long way to building trust and encouraging the youth.